There is a turtle running for mayor of Sudbury, and she’s been reaching out to the local community for ideas. I started to write the following as a comment on her facebook page but then realized it would be much too long a post comment, and I’ll write it up as a blog post too.
Dear Terra Turtle,
Good luck in your run! Having a turtle run for mayor makes me think of Wendell Berry’s 17 rules for a sustainable community, one of which is to always include the local wildlife as part of the community.
I have a few suggestions for what you could do as mayor. For one, I think we need work on being more accepting of the poor and homeless. Too many people still talk about the poor and homeless as something that needs to be banished from sight rather than as members of the community who need more assistance. They talk as though the presence of poor people makes them feel uncomfortable, and as though the solution to that were to further isolate the poor rather than to try to fight poverty and build solidarity. As mayor, I hope you’d try to help counter this trend. Speak out against anti-panhandling campaigns. Remove the metal anti-sitting bars around the bus station. Recognize the community that is formed around the mission, Memorial Park, and other places where those with financial troubles end up hanging out. If people are uncomfortable around panhandlers, we need to find more ways of encouraging them to get past their fear rather than giving into the rhetoric of how scary other people are.
Sudbury has opened a pilot project: the Out of the Cold Shelter. This shelter, run by the Salvation Army, allows people to sleep or watch tv in a large open room during the night during winter months. I’m glad the project is taking place. However, there’s still a big problem with having the project being run by the Salvation Army. Too many of Sudbury’s homeless people have already been turned away from the Sally Ann in the past, so that even now, with new more inclusive rules, they’re scared to go there. Some don’t like the religious aspect of the Sally Ann, so that even while the Sally Ann isn’t trying to convert anyone at the Out of the Cold Shelter, people stay away. Also, the project was started late in the winter, and many people don’t know about it. So don’t judge the need for an Out of the Cold Shelter by what happens over the next few weeks. Insist that the shelter be started at the beginning of next winter, in a location separate from the Sally Ann. Please.
The city staff do the administration for Ontario Works. They also decide how to spend the discretionary funds for things like beds and refrigerators. Make sure your staff know that it is okay for social assistance to go over budget occasionally, just as other departments do. Making sure people have a bed to sleep on is just as important as keeping the roads clean! If the staff get in a habit of trying to protect their allotted money by turning people away, they’ll end up hiding the fact that their budget really needs to be increased.
A city should take pride in helping people. Sudbury needs to focus on being a city that addresses people’s problems rather than setting up tighter security. After all, there are so many great stories about caring Sudburians. There’s so many different artists and musicians in Sudbury doing fundraisers for good causes. There’s so many great community organizations. The mayor and city council should be looking at all the most caring parts of Sudburians and mirroring that back to people.
Work to expand the powers that housing safety inspectors have to force landlords to make ncessary renovations in a timely manner, and remove fees that tenants have to pay in order to ask the city how their case is progressing. Encourage inclusive zoning with low income housing built in amongst other new developments. Look into “use it or lose it” bylaws to encourage buildings to be put to use not held onto for speculative purposes. Pursue the means to create more subsidized housing.
I hope as a mayor that you will prioritize walking and bike paths, and public transit. I hope you’ll work to lower Sudbury’s carbon output, making sure that city policies reflect the need for quick action on that. I hope you’ll help Sudbury’s Solar Coop in whatever ways they need, and that you’ll help the groups that are working on food security and community gardens. I trust you’ll work to protect the lakes and rivers.
Work to change the public rhetoric. There’s been so much talk about Sudbury being “open for business” or about rebranding for businesses. Businesses aren’t everything. Businesses are fed by having a healthy community.
Keep an eye on provincial and federal politics. Fight against the downloading of provincial and federal responsibilities onto municipalities. Municipalities have less ways of getting tax money, and shouldn’t have to foot the bills for things the province and federal government used to. Watch also for when changes in regulation put our lakes and rivers open to being polluted and use what means you can municipally to step into the gap and prevent the pollution. Watch for trade agreements like the Transpacific Partnership which could interfere in the city passing buy-local policies or prevent environmental regulations that interfere in foreign profits.
As mayor you’ll have to deal with a lot of criticism. There are always people who will complain. Hopefully you have a thick shell.